James, Peter: Centuries of Darkness
Uwe Topper
Berlin · 2001
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Review of the book "James, Peter (1991): Centuries of Darkness (in collaboration with I. J. Thorpe, Nikos Kokkinos, Robert Morkot and John Frankish. Foreword by Colin Renfrew. Published by Pimlico, London)

Without mentioning the German or Russian groups working on the same matter, and with a single pointer to Velikovsky, who is designed as "disastrously extreme" and from the archaeologist's point of view unscientific (page XXI), this teamwork product has surely shaken some foundations and cannot be brushed aside any more. It seems to me even that Heinsohn, Illig, Peiser et al. are indebted to this English group, although the acceptance of their work - because by far not clearing enough - is missing in their writings (or did I miss an article?).
There are curiously similar expressions used by both groups, like "ghost-pieces" to fill in vacant time (XXI) or "ghost centuries" (p.141) which match Niemitz's "Phantom-Jahre"; and even similar methods like separating cemetary finds from those found in settlements or rearranging them anew.

Jumping over a hiatus of 300 years between Late Bronce Age and the beginning of Historical Time (i.e. from 1175 to 850 BC; p.73) is the main object of this astonishing book. The authors look for discrepancies among modern scientists, they work on problems which others left unsolved, and found with amazement or suspicion: Art pieces like ivory objects do look nearly alike at both ends of the hiatus, without any line of tradition connecting them. The usual explanations - heirloom or reburial (including treasure and deposits) are critically put to test and one by one discarded.
Another often misused theory to help overcome the hiatus is the proposal, that perishable materials (p.74) had been employed during the interval of missing cultural objects. Instead of ivory or metal only textiles and wood had been worked on, so that the tradition was not broken, but is not detectable nowadays. (This compares to the European Middle Ages, when wood should have substituted stonebuildings).
Yet one more solution for continuity has often been forwarded: The use of traditional styles and forms in pottery paintings, remembering heroic or mythical times, an argument which is quite licit. Still there remains the problem how these archaic forms were transmitted or how they "leapfrogged" (p. 78) over several centuries. In other words: The jump over the time-barrier, as unconsciously invoked by official science, is well illustrated by James and his collaborators.

While outlining the process of development of our modern chronology, James very often criticizes the utter conjectural way of proceeding of French, British and Scandinavian scientists, sometimes humourously, in other phrases ironical. Except where he comes to treat the great archaeologist Kossinna; here James' language falls into blunt hatred (p.20-21), connecting Kossinna indirectly to the Shoah. The reader is not enlightened whether this is done in reverence to colleagues or out of personal education; it looks awkward in a book which judges a scientific capacity dead since two generations.
The author draws a clear distinction between western archaeologists and (oriental) biblical archaeologists, as their dating methods are very different. The latter draw their chronological conclusions from the Bible and press their finds into this literary timetable getting them often a century or two older than their scientific counterparts.
Do some centuries really matter in this chaotic arrangement which is shifted to and fro by a small amount of persons during their lifetime? Indeed, they do matter. There are even litterary battles fought between leading authorities for admitting or omitting one decade between two (imaginary or litterary) heroes of ancient history, pharaos or "greatkings". On the other side, James handles centuries quite generously when advancing his own theory: He calculates ( p. 119) a gap of 200-300 years between two setups of Hittites, but according to the figures he gives himself in the same paragraph, it would be 400-500 years. Because he doesn't want to be as extreme as Velikovsky and rather find agrreement with other colleagues, he plays down the real hiatus (in this case) and lowers the brackets to an acceptable amount. Acceptable to whom? And do mere mathematics no longer apply? His psychological filter is obvious.

So the main point of this book is stirring up consciousness among the scientific world and declare war on old models: "It is a striking testimony to the confusion inherent in the chronology that two eminent authorities could describe the same period of time (of the Hittites) as a ‚Dark Age' and a ‚Golden Age' respectively. The problem remains as desperate today as it was at the time of ..." (p.123) Here is someone coming with fresh air and new energy. But does he really see the dragon behind the trees? I doubt this very much.
Sure, chronological problems are everywhere "around the corner"(p. 137) when looked at them with a critic eye. Gordius, king of Phrygia (late 8th cent. BC) left the complex knot which Alexander "centuries later" cut with his sword. James does not say: "nearly 4 centuries later", because this would immediately put another anachronism into his already heavily laden suggestion: How can a knot of vegetable fibre last so long without falling to dust? Either the Greeks who related and read this story were naively credoulous, or they had a different timetable in mind.
After stirring up the dust that covers academic chronology, inherited from Scaliger and Newton and other pious men, this book does not give any clue how to proceed. Radiocarbondating is refered to on many occasions, dealt with in Appendix 1 and in a long footnote refering to Egypt. Although the author realizes at several points the inconsistencies which this dating-method produces, he tries to excuse mistakes and does not dare to lay the finger in the open wound, as Blöss and Niemitz did with their book "C14-Crash" (Berlin 1997). All chances had been open and were realized by James but not put on the table. He did not dare to see what he saw.

That is why he and his colleagues could not see the lurking dragon in the wood. This was given to Benny Peiser (1990 in VFG and 1993, Univ. of Frankfurt/M with his dissertation) who stated without hesitation that only a catastrophic impact around -550 could serve as explanation to all this chaotic mess of dates that is presented to us since renaissance time. I must confess that I do not know how close these persons cooperated or rejected each other. It would be worthwhile to find out as the last decade has seen many good assaults on academic chronology which should be followed up by all means.

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